In 1953, Kinder Morgan constructed the original Trans Mountain pipeline that runs from Strathcona County in Alberta and 1,150 km west to Burnaby, British Columbia. The pipeline carries almost 300,000 barrels of crude oil a day, being the only west coast access to Canadian oil products. In May of this year, Kinder Morgan proposed a “twin” expansion on the original operation which will increase the capacity to over 800,000 barrels of oil per day. This pipeline will run alongside the original and is projected to cost about $6.8 billion.
Along with the expansion proposal came a negative backlash, sparking a nationwide debate that continues even today. Historically, pipelines have been known to rupture or leak, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil, contaminating rivers, lakes and ecosystems. Due to the fact that a both the original and the expansion will run through sacred native land, the risk of contamination for the Indigenous communities has also incited concern.
Hope Ace, a Carleton University student with Ojibwe heritage, has voiced her protests against the pipeline.
“It will completely contradict Trudeau’s promise to the safety of the Indigenous communities,” Ace explains, “It will destroy reserves, contaminate drinking water and violate communities.”
In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned with a platform to bring protection and justice to Aboriginal communities, something Ace says he will turn back on if he approves the pipeline proposal.
“It puts too many native groups at risk,” Ace says. “No matter what tribe, our land is sacred to us. The construction and the possibility of a dysfunctional pipeline will really harm us.”
Environmental studies student Jackie Bastianon has also found reason to criticize the project, as well as Trudeau if the approval is announced. “During his campaign, [Trudeau] distinguished himself by claiming that he was a climate leader and someone who could focus on helping youth,” Bastianon says, “It is the youth of this country that will be most affected if this pipeline is approved. If we want to protect the earth and stop the rising temperatures, pipelines like these cannot be built.”
Bastianon attended the Kinder Morgan pipeline protest that took place on Parliament Hill on Oct. 24. Determined to have her voice heard, Bastianon among over a hundred other citizens and students demanded of Trudeau to refuse the pipeline proposal.
“Climate leaders do not build pipelines,” Bastianon says, “If we are to avoid catastrophic and irreversible warming of the planet in the next few decades, people around the world need to work together to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Projects like the Kinder Morgan pipeline need to be rejected.”
The Harper government wasn’t much help, Bastianon says. When the project was first proposed, the National Energy Board approved it under Harper’s governance. In order for pipeline projects to begin, they must first be approved by a neutral board and then by the Prime Minister. When it was discovered the NEB was riddled with problems, it was too late for the approval to be revoked, Bastianon says. Protestors are counting on now Prime Minister Trudeau to decline the proposal, which Bastianon explains was first approved unethically.
“Pipelines break often and they are poorly monitored. Sometimes the spill continues for days,” Bastianon says. “The risks outweigh the possible gains.”
There are some who are in favour of the construction of the pipeline. Economics masters student Samuel MacIsaac explains economists would generally believe pipelines to be beneficial in terms of gross domestic product and employment. MacIsaac remains neutral on the issue, however he understands the arguments from both sides of the debate.
“There are externalities, meaning positive or negative "unplanned" outcomes, such as pollution, which is an environmental negative externality, and political stress on relations with Aboriginal Peoples with the current government's stance on consultations; a political negative externality,” MacIsaac reasons, “these could be used to argue that pipelines are more ambiguous than just "good" or "bad".”
Noah Leduc, an economics student as well, believes there are ways in which the pipeline could be beneficial.
“Pipelines generate many temporary jobs which are needed to build and maintain the pipelines, and this leads to economic growth,” Leduc says, “It also helps Canada produce its own oil instead of depending on Middle Eastern countries, who hold a lot of control in the value of oil.”
Leduc explains using Canada’s own resources will help in the long run, creating economic prosperity through independence.
“I see both sides as well,” Leduc concludes, “I see how it can be beneficial, but I believe the risks are something to seriously consider.”
The debate continues as the Trudeau government’s decision deadline is fast approaching. On Dec 19, the dividing issue will be resolved and the decision on the proposal will be announced, but no matter what, some Canadians will not be happy.